06 July 2015
Under the Microscope with Magna Carta
We recently held a very successful public event sharing our conservation work in preparation for the British Library Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition. The exhibition marks 800 glorious years of Magna Carta since it was granted by King John of England in 1215. The conservation project involved removing six manuscripts from their frames and rehousing them for display. While they were out of their frames, the manuscripts were examined using various scientific techniques. High-resolution digital microscopy enabled incredible magnification of the iron gall ink and parchment which make up the charters. Here is a selection of the images captured of Cotton MS Augustus ii.106, one of the British Library’s two original Magna Cartas dating to 15 June 1215. Enjoy!
Magna Carta 1215 (Cotton MS Augustus ii.106) – one of four surviving original 1215 copies.
Iron gall ink
Iron gall ink has been used since the middle-ages and is found on many of our most treasured collections including the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and Magna Carta. The main ingredients of iron gall ink include iron sulphate, tannins from oak galls and water. Overall the ink is in very good condition on this charter allowing us to appreciate the beauty in the detail of some of the intials.
At high magnification we can see that some areas have experienced ink loss, but the Great Charter is still legible due to the remaining ink shadow left behind. Find out more about iron gall ink in a previous post here.
The parchment on which Magna Carta has been written is thought to be sheepskin. Parchment is an animal pelt which has had the hairs removed by liming or enzymatic action. It is then stretched and dried under tension creating a perfect writing surface with a thin opaque membrane. Below are some images showing damage to the upper dermal layers of the parchment. Find out more about parchment here.
You can find out more about this charter on the British Library Magna Carta resource page.
Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)